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Is a robot workforce inevitable?

Organisations should have already begun disruption plans to identify future robotic risks, says Dr Mathew Donald, author and fellow at CPA Australia

Robot workforce

The new age of disruption has arrived with fast paced technological change, sophisticated new apps, logarithms and artificial intelligence. It is envisaged that the next round of communication tools will finally enable the elusive robot revolution to arrive. The time for preparation for this new age is now no longer avoidable nor able to be ignored. Staff have been conscious of the robot capability threat since the 1970s, yet due to the delay in the arrival of the robot invasion staff may be complacent about the threat to jobs and the threat to working environments. 

Managers and leaders may also believe that their job, their industry or product offer may not be replicable by robots. Unfortunately, some managers may fail to recognise the emerging sophisticated logarithms and artificial intelligence that is already visible in social media and call centres. Even the most altruistic manager who would like to preserve human jobs may find that once robot safety, cost advantage, efficiency and communication emerge, repelling robots is impossible.

Organisations should already have begun disruption plans in order to identify future robotic risks, further identifying potential gaps and actions. The robotic transformation may affect a wide variety of industries, including for instance hospital cleaners, retail shop assistants, taxi drivers being replaced by driverless cars, or teachers being replaced by robots; the list is endless. The developers of robots will continue to write programmes, build automation and communication in order to find saleable robots that can find a commercial place in society. Without a direct safety breach or societal rebuff, the evolution of robots is likely to continue.

Even the most altruistic manager that would like to preserve human jobs may find that once robot safety, cost advantage, efficiency and communication emerge, repelling robots is impossible

It may be prudent for management to already be briefing their staff on the wave of change ahead in order to reduce potential stress or conflict that staff may suffer when disliking this robot transformation. It seems only fair and reasonable that organisations consult with staff about the changes in skills, reduced human presence and the increased requirement for data analysis. It will be worth skilling up your staff and preparing for this new environment, as not all jobs will be eliminated, where a happy workplace may be an advantage over the competitors. Imagine also working in a robot hall, devoid of humans who can say hello or shake a hand or who can converse about the family. This new environment may be too unfriendly for many. Staff consultation may diminish concerns and find alternative solutions, resulting in staff who are happier and more prepared to engage.

Staff may be significantly further challenged if working for robots rather than with robots. Remaining staff may want increases in pay and conditions to be commensurate with the new environment. The future manager will likely need increased skills of engagement, negotiation and flexibility in order to hire and retain good staff.  Engaging and listening to staff needs may be but one of the important steps required in order to prepare for this robot revolution ahead.

Dr Mathew Donald (pictured below) is an academic in the field of management, leadership and organisational change, with over 30 years business experience. He is a fellow at CPA Australia, and a member of the Australian Institute of Project Management. Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence is out now, published by Emerald Publishing, priced £65. For more information go to www.drmat.online

Dr Mathew Donald

Published 10 July 2019

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